Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

Memorandum submitted by Chesterfield Law Centre (LA 52)

Who will stand up for our rights?

Summary

1. This report has been prepared for the Committee by Chesterfield Law Centre. It expresses our serious concerns about the proposals about legal aid for social welfare law set out in the Justice Bill - Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

2. The report contains three case studies illustrating typical cases of clients who would no longer be entitled to legal aid under the proposals and the likely socio-economic costs to the individual and the state.

3. This is followed by an explanation of our concerns about the proposals. There are two appendices, Appendix A which shows how the impact of the changes has been calculated, and Appendix B which gives information about Chesterfield Law Centre and the services provided by us.

Who will stand up for our rights?

Mr A’s story…

4. Mr A was illegally evicted by his landlord without notice. "I returned home from work after doing a night shift. I found I was locked out and could not get into my home. My landlord had changed the locks without warning. I felt sick and apprehensive because I could not get to my belongings. There were a lot of sentimental items in there." Mr A had to sleep in his car for a week before staying with his friends. It wasn’t until three weeks later that Mr A felt able to contact his landlord after the Police were informed. "The Police

helped me to retrieve some of my belongings and advised me to contact the Law Centre."

5. Mr A contacted the Law Centre."The Law Centre told me what my landlord had done was illegal. The adviser told me what would happen next and that everything would be sorted out for me. I felt relieved and reassured." Mr A’s confidence had been badly affected by the experience. "I lost my job as an engineer a week after

being evicted as I was too stressed to cope with it all. It took me six months to rebuild my confidence as I lost my trust in people. I was quite depressed."

6. The Law Centre informed the Landlord that the eviction was

illegal and that they were looking at seeking damages for Mr A. The Law Centre commenced legal proceedings on Mr A’s behalf. "I was advised that I could get £5000 for damages caused by illegal eviction if the case went to court. In the end I settled for £1300 as I wanted to access this money quickly." Mr A was in debt and wanted the money to pay for a bond on a house. "Thanks to the

Law Centre, I paid back the money that I owed to my family and friends. I placed a deposit for another house and bought some furniture. The compensation cannot replace sentimental items that I have lost but I feel relieved it’s over and I can put it behind me now. The advice I received has improved my confidence as I know what landlords should and should not do."

Who will stand up for our rights?

Assessing the socio-economic impact of the specialist legal advice provided to Mr A

7. The outcome of the case

· Mr A did not seek advice until several weeks after he had been locked out of his home. He had not realised that what the Landlord had done was a civil and criminal offence. Once he received advice from the specialist housing lawyer at the Law Centre, he realised that he did have legal rights and could enforce them.

· The Law Centre issued court proceedings against the Landlord with a view to securing substantial damages for Mr A for the loss of his home and his belongings. This involved complex legal work, including advice from Counsel which legal aid initially paid for but the landlord eventually had to pay all of the costs.

· Mr A was initially advised through a type of legal aid called legal help. At a later stage, Mr A was granted Legal Representation to enable court proceedings to be commenced.

· The outcome of the legal case was that the Landlord, through their solicitors, accepted that an illegal eviction had occurred and agreed to pay Mr A compensation and settle all the legal fees for the case (resulting in no cost to legal aid fund which is a typical outcome).

· If legal aid was not available for this type of work, the Law Centre would not have been able to pursue this case for Mr A. Mr A is quite clear that he would not have pursued his claim without the service provided by the Law Centre "I would not have pursued this further had legal aid not been available. The Landlord would have got away with it as I would not have been able to pay for legal advice or take action on my own".

8. The socio-economic impact on Mr A and the state

· Losing his home and belongings in this way had a very detrimental effect on Mr A’s health and well-being. It also had a direct impact on him losing his job. Mr A reports that, even in the short term, just having a legal adviser tell him that what had happened to him was against the law made him feel confident.

· By the time Mr A sought advice it was too late to get his home back. However, the client went on to receive financial compensation which had a direct impact on his ability to move forward. He was able to use this compensation to pay off debts accumulated during this difficult time and fund a deposit on a private rented property. This helped to stabilise his home life and had a direct impact on him being able to secure employment again.

· We believe that there is enough evidence to show that, through the provision of legal advice (funded through legal aid); the overall cost to the state was substantially lower than if legal aid had not been provided in the first place. The estimate is that, following the illegal eviction, Mr A’s cost the state just £174.00 as compared to over £47,000 if legal advice had not been available.

Breakdown of the impact of the Legal Aid Reforms is found in appendix A.

Advice given fits within HM Government’s current priorities:

· Department for Communities and Local Government Business plan 2011 – 15 - Meet people’s housing aspirations and promoting social mobility

· HM Government: Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Social Strategy for Social Mobility

· DWP’s Business Plan 2011- 2015 vision: ‘to transform the opportunity for people without jobs.

9. The advice and assistance given in this housing matter has contributed towards improving his social mobility. The advice has:

R Enabled social mobility in supporting Mr A to achieve his ambitions, for example, getting another job, eradicating debt and securing housing aspirations.

R Improved his well-being and mental and physical health.

Who will stand up for our rights?

Mr B’s story…

10. Mr B had worked for his employer for over nine years when he was sacked without notice. "I had to leave work straightaway – I was travelling home on the bus thinking how I was going to tell my family – It’s a real bad thing, being sacked particularly without any notice. I am 59 years old and have worked all my life and I have never had this sort of trouble with an employer". Mr B now had no income and no way of meeting all his living costs. "It put a great pressure on me both financially and within the family. I had no idea how we were going to cope".

11. Fortunately Mr B decided that he should get some advice because he was convinced that he had been treated unfairly. He had heard about Citizens Advice Bureaux and decided to visit the local office in Chesterfield. On hearing his story, the adviser there recognised that Mr B needed specialist legal advice and made an appointment for him at Chesterfield Law Centre.

12. The legal adviser at the Law Centre agreed with Mr B that he had a case for unfair dismissal and Mr B started proceedings against his ex employer. Sadly the employer would not get involved in any negotiation so a claim was lodged with the Employment Tribunal. Almost a year after his dismissal, Mr B’s case was heard. "I can’t praise the Law Centre enough – the legal adviser gave me really expert help. She sorted everything out for me, kept me in touch with what was happening and helped me prepare for the hearing. It was a fantastic feeling when I heard the Employment Tribunal Judge say that I had won my case but I know I could not have done this without the help of the Law Centre".

13. The Employment Tribunal decided that Mr B had been unfairly dismissed and that his ex employer should pay him a substantial sum of money to compensate Mr B for loss of income. "This is the result I had been hoping for – I feel like I can hold my head up high again and me and my family can have a new start. While I was unemployed my wife and I had to use all our savings to keep on top of mortgage payments and a roof over our heads. During the four months being out of work I applied for 25 jobs and had one interview."

Who will stand up for our rights?

Assessing the socio-economic impact of the specialist legal advice provided to Mr B

14. The outcome of the case

· Mr B was referred to the Law Centre by Chesterfield Citizens Advice

Bureau for specialist employment advice and assistance. The Law Centre identified that Mr B had a case for unfair dismissal and started proceedings against Mr B’s ex-employer under the legal aid system.

· The advice given gave Mr B immediate positive effects on his health,

confidence and his sense of self worth.

· The Employment Tribunal decided that Mr B had been unfairly dismissed and that his ex employer should pay him a substantial sum of money to compensate him for the loss of his job.

· If legal aid was not available for this type of work, the Law Centre would not have been able to pursue this case for Mr B.

· The Government is planning to remove legal aid from employment cases. In

the future, legal aid centres like Chesterfield Law Centre will not have

sufficient funding to provide any specialist help in employment.

· Mr B said he would not have been able to afford to pay for advice.

15. The socio-economic impact on Mr B and the state

· Losing his job had a detrimental impact on Mr B’s health and well-being.

· Without the Law Centre, he would not have been able to enforce his legal rights which would have impacted on his ability to pay his mortgage and debts which would have destabilised his home and family life.

· Mr B received financial compensation which stabilised his home life, replaced the savings they had spent and protected their mortgage payments in the future. The advice gave him confidence to secure employment again.

· Because of the provision of legal advice funded through legal aid, the overall cost to the state was substantially lower than if legal aid had not been provided in the first place. The estimate is that, the legal aid funded advice for Mr B cost £1300 as compared to around £10,500 to the state if legal aid funded advice had not been available.

Details on the wider socio-economic impact of the Legal Aid Reform applied to this case study is found in appendix A.

Advice given fits within HM Government’s current priorities:

· HM Government: Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Social Strategy for Social Mobility

· DWP’s Business Plan 2011- 2015 vision: ‘to transform the opportunity for people without jobs to find work and support themselves and their families.’

16. The advice and assistance given in this employment matter has improved social mobility. The advice has:

R Given Mr B confidence to progress in the labour market by securing another job.

R Enabled social mobility in supporting his family to achieve their ambitions, for example getting another job, eradicating debt and keeping a roof over their heads.

R Improved his family’s well-being and mental and physical health.

Who will stand up for our rights?

Ms C’s story…

17. Ms C came to the Law Centre after she found that she was dismissed from her employment as a café assistant in a restaurant. She said "I felt upset by the way I was treated by my employer. It really knocked my confidence as I kept doubting myself if my employer was correct in the way he behaved towards me."

18. When her line manager took a day off, she left Ms C instructions on the amount of food to prepare for Sunday roast dinners as she was cooking alone in the kitchen with the support of her manager’s two daughters, aged 17 and 14. Until this day she had received no complaints about her work and felt that her contribution was always appreciated. Ms C said: "I always looked forward to working at the restaurant."

19. At 12.30, one of the Directors came in and was abusive towards her and humiliated her in front of customers by complaining loudly about the amount of vegetables left. He also shouted at the two young assistants for not providing clean crockery and cutlery quickly enough. Later that day the same Director came back for a tea break and started shouting at Ms C for the few minutes delay in providing a dinner for four.

20. After she finished work, Ms C’s manager contacted Ms C. The manager’s daughters had told her what had happened. Subsequently a meeting was arranged for the following day. The meeting quickly became an abusive one where the same Director carried on being abusive towards Ms C and accused her of lying. Ms C went home in tears "I felt I could not return to work as I was scared of going back to work due to his behaviour."

21. Eventually Ms C went back to work but she was given her P45. "I felt so betrayed by my employer when I found out I was dismissed."

22. Ms C said "As a single parent I was worried about how I was going to afford to pay the bills and school trips for my daughter. I did not want it to affect my child’s life. I had been bringing home £200 a week wages which reduced to £80 a week on benefits including housing benefit. I changed from working 30 hours a week to no hours at all. I quickly became depressed and my confidence sank further. The advice from the Law Centre gave me my confidence back as I was advised that I was not in the wrong in the first place. I was then able to get another job in November. If the advice had not been available I know I would have been out of work for at least a year because I felt it was my fault when it was not. I certainly would have not been able to afford to pay for the advice nor pay off my debts."

23. The Law Centre prepared Ms C’s case to be heard at the Employment Tribunal where she had to represent herself as there is no legal aid available to fund representation work. "I received a lot of support from my employment

caseworker who gave me the confidence to attend the hearing by myself." The case was decided in Ms C’s favour - that there was a constructive unfair dismissal. Ms C said "I was over the moon when I received the good news. I felt vindicated. The compensation helped me to clear my overdraft and debts caused by the dismissal last year."

Who will stand up for our rights?

Assessing the socio-economic impact of the specialist legal advice provided to Ms C

24. The Outcome of the case

· The Law Centre identified that Ms C had a case for constructive dismissal and started proceedings against her ex-employer.

· The advice gave Ms C her confidence back so she felt able to look for another job. It took the stress away from Ms C in trying to resolve the problem herself which calmed her and stabilised her household.

· The Employment Tribunal decided that Ms C had been constructively unfairly dismissed and ordered that her ex-employer pay her a substantial sum of money to compensate her loss of income.

· If legal aid had not been available for this type of work, the Law Centre would not have been able to pursue this case for Ms C.

· Should the Reforms go ahead, Chesterfield Law Centre will not have

sufficient funding to provide specialist help in employment law.

· Ms C said she would not have been able to afford to pay for advice.

25. The socio-economic impact on Ms C and the state

· The compensation paid off debts that were caused by the shortfall in income between July and November.

· She has confidence to resolve any difficulties in the future and to seek advice earlier if there are free specialist advice agencies left to get advice from.

· The advice has reduced the state’s expenditure by nearly £8,000.00 a year as it enabled Ms C to be more confident in securing another job.

· We believe that there is enough evidence to show that, through the

provision of legal advice funded through legal aid, the overall cost to the state was substantially lower than if legal aid had not been provided in the first place. The estimate is that the legal aid funded advice to Ms C cost £1433 as compared to over £14,000 if legal aid funded advice had not been available.

Details on the wider socio-economic impact of the Legal Aid Reform applied to this case study is found in appendix A.

Advice given fits within HM Government’s current priorities:

· HM Government: A New Approach to Child Poverty: Tackling the Causes of Disadvantage and Transform Families’ Lives

· DWP’s Business Plan 2011 - 2015 vision: ‘to transform the opportunity for people without jobs to find work and support themselves and their families.’

26. The long term effects on the advice given for the State contributes towards Government’s vision in transforming lives. The advice has:

R Removed barriers to her daughter’s future

R Enabled social mobility in supporting this family to achieve their ambitions, for example getting another job and eradicating child poverty.

R Improved Ms C’s well-being and mental and physical health, with positive long term implications for her child.

Who will stand up for our rights?

Concerns about the Legal Aid Reform

27. We are concerned that there has not been sufficient scrutiny of the consequences - short/long term socio-economic impact - on the state and on individuals.

28. In an attempt to save £350 million, the Ministry of Justice intends to make £279 million of those savings from civil legal aid by cutting access to the services that help the most vulnerable people cope with problems that arise in their everyday lives, such as employment, housing, family breakdown, education and debt. If these problems are left unsolved they escalate and result in far greater costs elsewhere in the system. It is estimated that 60% of the reduction in legal aid funding will be taken from not-for-profit legal advice providers.

29. We have given case examples showing the wider socio-economic impact that Legal Aid Reforms would have for the state and our clients.

30. Chesterfield Law Centre estimates that 55% of its core income comes from legal aid each year. If the Bill is passed this is likely to reduce to 34% giving an overall reduction in core funds of 32%. Along with many other legal advice agencies, a loss of funding of this magnitude may result in the organization no longer being financially viable and forced to close. This will deprive some of the most vulnerable people in society access to advice and representation.

31. Legal Action Group research July 2011 confirmed the cuts in Legal Aid in North Derbyshire:

Area of law

Current procurement plans – 2010 tender

Number of cases cut

Loss of funding to Legal Aid providers

Debt

500

375 (reduced by 75%)

£75,000.00

Employment

330

330 (100% withdrawal)

£75,900.00

Housing

540

194 (reduced by 36%)

£33,825.60

Welfare benefits

420

420 (reduced by 100%)

£70,140.00

Total

1790

1319 (74% reduction)

£254,865.60 total loss to North Derbyshire

If the proposals are implemented only 471 people in North Derbyshire will be helped through legal aid with these sorts of problems.

32. We have close working relationships with 54 Surestarts and Children’s centres, 11 advice agencies, VCS organisations and private practice solicitors in Derbyshire who refer their service users to the Law Centre for legally aided advice. These organisations require legal aid centres such as Chesterfield Law Centre to provide specialist advice to remove barriers for disadvantaged clients by meeting their basic needs in securing their wages, keeping a roof over their families – all of which falls within meeting the Government’s employment, housing and educational aspirations. (The Coalition: our programme for government 2010).

33. Chesterfield Law Centre and our umbrella organisation - the Law Centres Federation - believe that these proposals will

lead to significant additional costs to the Ministry of Justice, and other central and local government departments such as Social Services, Police, Health.

deny the most vulnerable in society access to justice

do nothing to tackle the root causes of the need for legal advice in social welfare law.

34. It seems that the Coalition’s Business plans do not acknowledge the role or the value of advice. Through legal aid, the not-for-profit advice agencies can, in partnership with the government, improve social mobility, increase people’s housing aspirations and help disadvantaged people progress into the labour market.

35. The Legal Services Commission does not collect information on the wider socio-economic impact of the cases they fund. The MoJ’s business plan 2011–15 (page 30) says that ‘The Legal Services Commission will publish the average cost per case of legal aid’. If wider social and economic impact data were collected, this would show value for money, a better understanding of the value of advice and the wider implications of this work.

Who will stand up for our rights?

Appendix A

Mr A

Socio-economic impact to the state

Outcomes Cost to the state Cost to state

with legal aided advice without legal aided advice

36. Health

§ Increased stress and depression caused by illegal eviction. Increase in drinking & smoking from 105 to 280 cigarettes a week.

Negligible. The increase in smoking and drinking has been for a month.

£3,336.80 for health care services for a year. [1]

37. Accommodation

§ Claiming Housing benefit

£910 for three months to the state.

£3640 Housing Benefit a year

Possible homelessness.

£29,000 (2)

38.Job and benefits

§ Loss of job within a week due to loss of home.

§ Claiming JSA due to loss of job.

£845 for three months.

£7,722 loss of tax and national insurance for a year

£3380 JSA a year

39. Rights and justice

£2587.00 legal costs settled by third party.

£174.00 legal help cost to state.

Total:

£1,929.00

Up to £47,078.80

40. Net gain for the state:

Having spent £174.00 on legal aid, the state has saved £46,904.80.

Who will stand up for our rights?

Mr B

Socio-economic impact to the state

Outcomes Cost to the state Cost to state

with legal aided advice without legal aided advice

41. Health

§ Stress and depression caused by losing his job.

Negligible.

£1,864.80 for health care services for a year. (1)

42. Accommodation

· Income-related JSA and housing costs

· Claiming Council

Tax Benefit

£274.03 – secured a job within 4 months of losing his job.

£1455.37 to the state for a year

£822.09 council tax a year

43. Job and benefits

§ Loss of job.

§ Claiming JSA due to loss of job.

£301.53 tax and NI to the state for four months.

£1400.00 – secured a job within 4 months of losing his job.

£852.24 loss of tax and national insurance for a year

£4,200.00 a year

44. Rights and justice

£1,327.88 cost to state.

£1433.00 if client had to self represent at tribunal without advice.

Total:

£3,303.44

Up to £10,627.50

45. Net gain for the state:

Having spent £1,327.88 on legal aid, the state has saved £9,299.62.

Who will stand up for our rights?

Ms C

Socio-economic impact to the state

Outcomes Cost to the state Cost to state

with legal aided advice without legal aided advice

46. Health

§ Stress and depression caused by the dismissal.

Negligible.

£2,304.80 for health care services for a year. (1)

47. Accommodation

§ Claimed Housing benefit due to loss of job.

£1040.00 – secured a job within 4 months of seeking advice from the Law Centre.

£3,120.00 a year housing benefit cost to the state.

48. Job and benefits

§ Loss of tax and national insurance to state.

§ Claimed JSA due to loss of job.

£1,144.00 loss of tax and national insurance for 4 months until she secured a job.

£1386.66 – secured a job within 4 months of seeking advice from the Law Centre

£3,432 loss of tax and national insurance for a year

£4,159.98 a year without legal aid funded advice.

49. Rights and justice

£1,433.35 cost to state.

£1,433.00 if client had to self represent at tribunal without advice.

Total:

£5,004.01

Up to £14,449.78

50. Net gain for the state:

Having spent £1,433.35 on legal aid, the state has saved £13,016.43.

Who will stand up for our rights?

Appendix B

About Chesterfield Law Centre

51. Chesterfield Law Centre is asking the Government to reconsider their decision to restrict Legal Aid in Social Welfare law.

52. Chesterfield Law Centre, a civil society organisation, is a registered charity and has been delivering free legal services in social welfare law since 1989. The Law Centre specialises in debt, housing and homelessness, employment, discrimination and tackling hate and harassment

53. Chesterfield Law Centre is an independent organisation run by a management committee of local people.

54. The Law Centre employs 4 solicitors, 9 legal advisers and 9 support staff. The Law Centre is also supported by 24 volunteers that provide reception, administrative and signposting support. The volunteers provide at least 4531 hours a year.

55. Last year we advised and assisted 6824 callers, most of whom were vulnerable. Over 55% are women and 44% are men - all on low incomes or sometimes no income. Over 20% of our clients are over 50 years of age. Over 15% are between 16 and 25 years of age. Ten per cent of our clients defined themselves as Black or from another ethnic minority group; 25% class themselves as disabled including having a long term health condition. 51.7% are on means tested benefits such as guarantee pension credit, job seekers allowance, carers allowance and employment support allowance.

56. 99% of our clients have reported that they are satisfied with the services they have received from us. 90% have said that our advice had a positive impact on their lives.

57. We hold legal help contracts with the Legal Services Commission in employment, consumer discrimination, debt and housing.

58. We are a member of Advice Derbyshire, an umbrella organisation comprising of five Citizens Advice Bureaux, Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centres and the Law Centre. Two of the CABx hold LSC contracts in welfare benefits and debt through consortia arrangements with the Law Centre. We work closely with voluntary sector organisations and other advice partners in meeting service users’ legal needs and meeting their targets to improve social mobility.

July 2011


[1] Unit Costs of Health and Social Care 2010, PSSRU

[1] Crisis, National Charity for Homeless People 2008

Prepared 7th September 2011